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Are the Saints Playing Roster Roulette with Josh Hill?

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Could a draft day trade with the Bears be in the works?

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints have matched the Chicago Bears’ offer to restricted free agent tight end and special team standout Josh Hill. The deal is for $7.1M over 3 years with $3.25M guaranteed and about another $1M in incentives .

After already signing Hoomanawanui and Fleener to long term contracts, this signing seemed a little puzzling due to it’s comparably high price tag. In 2014, Hill caught 14 passes on 20 targets for 176 yards and five touchdowns. This production on limited snaps lead Saints fans to hope he could possibly serve as a replacement for Jimmy Graham after his trade to the Seattle Seahawks. In 2015, however, the glimmers of promise proved to be nothing more than figments of our imagination as Hill only mustered 16 caught passes on 30 targets for 120 yards and two TDs.

As the season churned on, Ben Watson emerged as the go-to tight end threat. Hill remained an important special teamer, but $2.4M per year is a lot of money for a third tight end even if he is a special team standout. The NFL rule change moving touchbacks to the 25 yard line makes this signing seem even less necessary as most teams now won’t have much of a chance to make an impact on special teams outside of field goal kicking and punting.

Along with Mickey Loomis’ masterful manipulation of the salary cap, the Saints may have another trick up their sleeve. The Chicago Bears clearly really wanted Hill on their roster to extend such a lucrative contract to a mostly unproven talent. Ryan Pace, the Bears’ general manager, is a former director of player personnel for the Saints and he served that role beginning in 2013, the same year the Saints signed Hill as an underrated free agent rookie. Pace is obviously enthralled with Hill and probably did not expect the Saints to match his offer.

But what if the Saints have no intention of keeping Hill on their roster at all this season? Instead of losing him for nothing in return, could the Saints be spinning the roulette wheel in hopes that the Bears will be willing to part with a draft pick for the 25-year-old out of Idaho State? Thanks to trades with Carolina and New England, Chicago is stacked with 9 draft picks this year including 2 in the 4th and 6th rounds. Could Hill be worth a 6th round pick? I think so.

After Payton’s offseason shake up of the scouting department last year starting with the hiring of Jeff Ireland, the Saints fielded one of their more promising rookie classes since the amazing class of 2006. If that trend can continue as the Saints attempt to build their roster through the draft, a late round trade with Chicago could still produce a contributing dividend.

Saturday April 30th, the final day of the NFL draft may be worth watching after all.